2023 marks a new dawn in the way we measure digital performance.
As of July 1, 2023, Google is sunsetting the much-loved Universal Analytics (UA), forcing digital marketers and website managers alike to adopt the newest iteration of data measurement, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Your data is powerful. It can, and should, help you make data-driven decisions that align with your wider business and marketing goals. Just how powerful it can be often comes down to the tools you’re using to collect your data and how they’re configured. Here at Atomix, we help our clients use Analytics to drive evidence-based digital strategies and website designs, giving us a more complete picture of the user experience and how it can be designed to meet business goals
The digital space has changed dramatically in recent years with Google’s “Cookiepocalypse” and Apple’s app tracking permissions update. GA4 is designed to keep pace with the rapidly changing landscape while still delivering on your data needs. GA4 and UA are built differently on a fundamental level, so migrating to GA4 isn’t a simple one-click process. This means you can use this migration as an opportunity to review your current Analytics set-up and make your data work for you.
We’re running you through all the factors our Digital Strategists consider when working with clients on their GA4 migration, but first, how is GA4 different to UA and why did we need to migrate to GA4?
Google Analytics 4 vs. Universal Analytics - how do they measure up?
GA4 is Google’s next generation of Analytics, built for a cookie-less, privacy-focused world. Privacy is the theme for the 2020s, evident from the iOS 14.5 update which allows users to opt out of app tracking and Google deprecating third-party cookies on Chrome by the end of 2023. This, alongside advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), have had far-reaching impacts on the digital landscape.
Driven by these changes, GA4 is built on a fundamentally different way of tracking digital activity, and comes with a host of new and exciting features. We could write a blog on each of those, but today, we're tackling just some of the main differences below.
Data collection methods
Data collection in GA4 is considerably different to UA. UA was built on a hit-based model, where a session records a series of hits. Google defines a hit as, “an interaction that results in data being sent to Analytics” and there are a number of predefined hit-types (e.g.: pageviews, transactions).
GA4, on the other hand, uses an event-based model, “with the principle that any interaction can be captured as an event”. While there are some predefined events that can be automatically collected and additional enhanced events measurement you can turn on, this model means virtually any visitor interaction on your website or app can be tracked and measured.
A goal by any other name…
Move over UA goal completions, make way for GA4’s events and conversions. In UA you are likely used to defining a particular user interaction you consider a conversion as a goal - think request for quote form submissions, clicks to call, etc. Other interactions on your site that don’t necessarily affect your bottom line, such as PDF downloads or button clicks, are categorised as events, which is its own hit-type.
GA4 allows you to define and track a number of events, and of these you can select important ones to be labelled as conversions. Events in GA4 are not the same as those in UA, however.
So, what’s the difference between UA events and GA4 events? UA events are a specific type of hit or interaction, GA4, on the other hand, doesn’t discriminate and counts every interaction as an event. This is the crux of GA4 and has triggered a shift away from session-based Analytics towards omni and multi-channel tracking based on event interactions.
Goodbye cookies, hello machine learning and AI-driven insights
Measuring users online is becoming increasingly challenging with D-day for third-party cookies quickly approaching and 75% of iOS users opting out of app tracking. So how do we track our users’ behaviour if they’re telling us not to? GA4 still uses first-party cookies which are compliant with the new privacy laws being introduced such as GDPR, but this method isn’t as effective as the third-party cookies we’ve come to rely on. Enter machine learning and AI.
Machine learning and AI insights in GA4 provide you with more accurate, personalised, and actionable analytics by filling in the gaps where data is incomplete. You’ll benefit from predictive analytics and forecasting as well as being alerted to anomalies and underlying patterns you may have been unaware of otherwise.
Google has also introduced its data-driven attribution model as the default conversion model for GA4. In the past, the default model used was the last-click attribution model where the conversion is attributed wholly to the last ad clicked.
Now, Google uses your account’s historical data and machine learning to distribute credit for a conversion across all the different touch points depending on their significance. This means you get a more holistic view of your conversion pathways.
Your customers’ decision-making process is becoming increasingly complex with more and more people using multiple devices across multiple sessions. GA4’s use of user IDs, combined with advanced machine learning and predictive analytics means you can see this data all in one place, visualising the entire user journey.
The aim of the GA4 game is customisation. There are fewer pre-made reports available like what you see in UA, and in its place are fully customisable explorations where you’re in command of what and how your data is presented.
GA4 is working to be your ultimate source of truth, with all your Google products such as Google Ads and Search Console linked to one place. This means you have a more comprehensive view of the user journey across your digital marketing channels, as well as added personalisation and detailed targeting.
The depreciation of third-party cookies is bittersweet - digital marketers will need to relearn how to target ads to audiences, but it is a big win for humanity overall in terms of privacy. GA4 comes with a number of privacy-centred features and settings for the modern world.
Most notably, GA4 no longer collects and stores IP addresses like UA did. It is also now easier for admins to delete data and change user-specific data retention times. GA4 also allows you to turn off location-specific data and ad personalisation data by country.
4 things to consider before you migrate to GA4
To get the most out of your Analytics, it should be configured with your needs and people in mind. Before starting the migration to GA4, it’s worth considering these four things so you can be empowered to make data-driven decisions.
1. Does your Google Analytics still align with your wider business goals?
New Analytics, new me - GA4 is the perfect opportunity to review and audit your existing goals and conversion tracking. Analytics accounts are often set up with a set-and-forget mentality, meaning they align with your business goals at the time of set-up, but aren’t actively managed beyond this.
The migration to GA4 is not simply one-to-one with UA due to the fundamental differences in session-based vs. event-based tracking. You’ll likely need to reconfigure the way interactions are tracked to suit GA4’s new style of data collection.
Ask yourself this, are my existing goals relevant to my business today and how I want to grow? How you answer this question might catalyse an entire shift in your Analytics strategy.
Before you migrate to GA4, you and your team should consider:
What are our current business goals and KPIs?
Has there been added functionality to my site/app that I’m not tracking? E.g.: email subscriptions, job applications.
Do I want to rebuild my website in the future and are there events I can track to help inform its design? E.g.: Button clicks, navigation.
How can I attribute online conversions and efforts to my marketing efforts?
With these questions in mind, you can better understand what goals to migrate across, which ones to leave behind, and what you’re missing. Accurate and up-to-date event tracking can help inform your marketing strategy so you can allocate resources where they matter most.
2. Who will be using the data?
Your Analytics has the potential to help more than your digital marketing team. Understanding how and why your customers use your site through your Analytics can be a game-changer for different teams and units in your business.
Consulting with other teams and units in your business can also help you identify events and conversions you might not have otherwise considered important. With inbound marketing becoming a bigger driving force behind many marketing strategies, it’s more important than ever to turn to other areas of your business to help guide it.
This approach leads us to a greater focus on retention over acquisition and marks a move away from the traditional funnel and towards a flywheel method. The principle here is to create content that will engage your ideal customer to the point where they promote your business for you and spin your flywheel. This promoter engages more potential customers, in turn spinning your flywheel faster, and so on.
GA4 doesn’t use a flywheel exactly, but it does focus on retention and cross-platform functionality, which is a natural progression towards it. On top of your traditional conversions, you’ll want to consider tracking events on your website or app that feed into this flywheel. It’s important you speak to other teams to help inform the events you should be tracking to help you measure this.
Before implementing GA4, think about:
Are there other teams in the business who could benefit from this data?
Can my GA4 reveal information that helps my customer service and sales teams?
How can I help my social media/writing team know what’s important to our users?
How can my GA4 inform and complement the delivery of our service or product?
3. What is your current reporting process?
Your current reporting process will have a major impact on how you configure your GA4. Your reporting needs will inform a majority of the events and parameters you need to track. GA4 offers a lot of customisation, so you can get super granular if you want with some extra work behind the scenes during set-up.
This leads into how you visualise your GA4 data. While in UA there are a number of ready-made reports covering acquisition, engagement and conversions, GA4 is all about customisation. There are fewer pre-made reports available, meaning your GA4 is not as intuitive out of the box, especially for those who aren’t digital natives.
Instead of training non-marketers in the language of analytics, which, let's be honest, can be hard to implement company-wide, let your data do the talking with a Looker Studio dashboard. Create and share custom-made, interactive data visualisations designed for the people who are reading it. Your dashboard is only as complex as you make it, and saves you time having to dig up the right tab in your Analytics.
From simple, one-page reports with just the key conversion metrics for your CEO and executive board, to a breakdown of popular products for the sales team, or a complex, multi-page dashboard for your marketing team, you can do it all with Google’s Looker Studio.
Once you’re collecting the right data in GA4, you need to consider who you’re reporting to and how you can ensure they get the most out of it. If you’re reporting to a non-marketing person, this is where a Looker Studio dashboard can come in handy.
A tailor-made reporting dashboard can show just the information they’re looking for, no more, no less. Additionally, you can spend less time sending these reports off by setting it up to automatically be sent to their inbox at your designated time, whether that’s weekly, monthly, quarterly or otherwise.
To understand how you should present your Analytics, ask yourself:
Do I regularly report on my digital performance? If not, do I want to?
How often do I report on it?
What am I reporting on?
How granular do I want to get with your reporting?
Who do I report to and how can they understand it better?
4. How have you installed your Analytics previously?
So you know what you’re tracking in GA4, who is going to use it, and how you’re going to present the data. Before you can crack into setting it up, you need to figure out how you’re going to install GA4.
Now is the time to contact your web administrator or developer and find out just how your UA was installed, and review if you want to install GA4 in the same way. You can install GA4 directly on your site via the code or with a plugin and use it straight out of the box without any customisation thanks to the automatically collected events and enhanced measurement.
At Atomix, we tend to install GA4 via Google Tag Manager (GTM). While you will need a developer to install GTM initially (if you don’t already have it), moving forwards you have total control over your event tracking and the option to create custom events without coding knowledge. This puts you in charge of your tracking and means you don’t have to rely on a developer to implement it.
Before you start the migration process, ask yourself:
How was my Google Analytics installed in the past?
Do I want to install it this way again?
Do I want to track custom events and conversions?
Do I want to have control over these custom events myself, without a developer?
Gain valuable insights into your digital performance and make data-driven decisions for your business with GA4.
Not sure where to start? We can help you review your analytics strategy and configure a GA4 account that meets your unique business needs with a one-on-one consultation.